God is holy. He cannot face sin because of His holiness. Because of the sinfulness of mankind, many times we read in the Bible that the people were without the presence of the Lord. The people were unable to be in the presence of God because they were unclean. Once a year, one person could enter the inner part of the Temple to approach His presence. Even Moses was not allowed to look upon the face of the Lord because he was a sinner, just like you and me.
When reading about Jonah, we note that he was asked by the Lord to go share a message to the people of Nineveh. He gets up and flees to Tarshish. But it doesn’t just say that he goes in the opposite direction from where he was commanded. It says he flees “from the presence of the LORD.” When the men on the boat are trying to discover the cause of the storm issues, they recognize that he is running from “the presence of the LORD.”
Every time we sin, we are keeping ourselves from fully being in the presence of the LORD. Yes, things are different today. Jesus Christ died on the Cross, was buried, and rose on the third day. If we believe this, we are saved. If we believe this, we are children of God. If we believe this, we can approach God. The veil is torn. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon us. But still, if we sin, we are keeping ourselves from fully being in the presence of the LORD. Do you want that? Do you desire to not be fully aware of His presence? If you want to hear His still small voice, if you want to be aware of Him—to recognize Him moving in your life and in the lives around you—turn from sin and fix your eyes on Him. Take a step towards God and experience the awesomeness of the presence of the LORD.
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD… Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.” – Jonah 1:3,10 [ESV]